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Gettin’ Up to Get Down: Ski Touring In Rogers Pass

It’s no longer a secret that Revelstoke is the heli ski shangri-la. In last month’s final heli-series installment, we checked in with CMH Revelstoke. They’ve been whisking people away to the untouched paradise since 1978. But long before that, in the late 1930’s, there was a different kind of powder hunting going on – ski touring – and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much untracked powder is still accessible right outside of Revelstoke’s front door, as long as you’re prepared to work for it.

Revelstoke ski touring
Heather Lodge and skiers. Photo: Revelstoke Museum & Archives

Rogers Pass Ski Touring: Accessing the goods with two feet and a heart beat

Rogers Pass is a mountain pass in the heart of the Selkirk Mountains, about forty-five minutes east of Revelstoke.

It was discovered in 1881 by Major Albert Bowman Rogers, a surveyor working for the CPR, who claimed it to be a key piece of the puzzle connecting the CPR all the way across Canada. At the time, he likely wouldn’t have realized the amazing alpine playground for mountaineering and ski touring he opened up. After a serious engineering and building effort to construct bridges, loops, and snow sheds, they completed the railway through this formidable pass.

The trains were soon rolling across the Pass bringing tourists and adventure seekers from around the world. The grades through the pass were so steep they were forced to leave behind the dining cars and any extra weight. The CPR alleviated this problem by building the Glacier house in 1887, which began as a simple structure but eventually developed into a large luxurious hotel that would soon become the birthplace of Canadian Mountaineering. The word got out, and soon there were hordes of people from around the world eager to nab first ascents in this incredible alpine vista.

 

In 1899, the CPR inaugurated a program of bringing Swiss mountain guides to Canada in order to promote tourism at their mountain hotels in the Rockies and Selkirks. Until this time, all the climbing had been done by mainly local, dedicated amateurs on more moderate routes. From this day forward the Swiss guides would have a tremendous impact on the future of Canadian mountaineering and ski touring.

Fast forward to the 1950’s, to when Roger’s Pass became home to one of the first avalanche programs in North America, created to keep the railway safe from avalanches. The program was run by Fred Schleiss, who knew right away that it was critical his crew be competent on skis in order to do their work. On the heels of this program, which was already increasing the amount of ski touring occurring in the Pass, a man named Hans Gmoser arrived from Austria and became the first person to really start promoting ski touring there. He filmed his ski and mountaineering adventures through the 1950’s and 60’s and then would show his films around North America, trying to generate interest for his new ski company, Canadian Mountain Holidays, which would eventually become the largest heli ski company in the world. In 1962 the Trans-Canada highway, which would now follow the same route through Roger’s Pass as the CPR, opened to the public and cut the travel time between Golden and Revelstoke dramatically.

Emma mains high above the trans canada highway on Avalanche Crest
Emma mains high above the trans canada highway on Avalanche Crest

The old route would take you all the way up North to Mica via the Big Bend highway. This gave much easier access to backcountry skiers and other road travelers alike, but it wasn’t until the 80’s and 90’s when recreational ski touring numbers began to really soar. Backcountry users visiting Rogers Pass have increased steadily since and in more recent years have gone through another massive explosion in popularity. It could have something to do with the 12m+ of snow annually.

Living in Revelstoke I spend a fair amount of time ski touring at the Pass exploring the incredible mountains and valleys in the area. On a bluebird day, getting into the vast alpine terrain and looking out over the incredible mountains of the Selkirk range should be high on everyone’s bucket list. Rogers Pass is all about ski touring and has the inherent risk associated, it also has a mandatory winter permit system that allows us to ski without causing a problem to the highway or train. In the Spring, be especially vigilant of the warming conditions. Make sure you Know Before You Go and check out these important links:

Avalanche Canada Bulletins 
Parks Canada Winter Permits for Ski Touring 
Guide Services

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